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Shapps casts doubt on agency licensing

Shadow Housing Minister Grant Shapps has expressed concern that mandatory licensing could stifle agency innovation.

Speaking exclusively to The Negotiator, Shapps (pictured) says: "Despite the fact that I know a lot of estate agents would like to see legislation, I fear that that would create too much of a closed shop.

"It sounds very good once you're inside; it's always easy to create additional protection and make it harder to keep others out..."

He adds: "You can always have the threat of legislation there, but a system where the industry takes the lead is by far my preference."

But he fails to offer an alternative solution to professionalise the industry. "I think, particularly in these days of the internet, the next direction for estate agents is probably unknown."

Shapps believes that an estate agency register, such as the one being spearheaded by The Property Ombudsman Service's chief operating officer Bill McClintock is a step in the right direction.

"I'd like to see estate agents sorting out their own act. I think most estate agents are very good. As with every industry you get a few rogues and I think that the public needs to be protected from and made aware of who the rogues are, and the industry itself could do much more about promoting a best practice."

Peter Bolton King, chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents, says: "If you're talking about heavy-handed legislation, we wouldn't support it either. What we've always said is ideally this is industry-led.

"The industry can sort things out but it might need Government help with a light-touch regulatory framework."

Bolton King is in the throes of creating a licensing scheme for NAEA members.

Meanwhile, Shapps remains true to his pledge to scrap HIPs, but reveals that he is not averse to an exchange-ready pack of some sort.

"If an exchange-ready pack can be produced because estate agents know it's best practice and they've got evidence that it speeds up the process, it's obviously a great idea. Why don't estate agents get together and propose exchange-ready packs? I speak to estate agents all the time who have their different versions of this."

He adds: "What you want is an estate agent who gets their seller to get everything prepared during the early days [of the transaction] and I think you can do all this without the red tape and bureaucracy that adds costs," he says.

Don't miss an exclusive interview with Shapps in the next issue of The Negotiator on May 8.

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